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We are a troop of hominids physically based in Cambridge in the UK. We carry out research into the evolution and ecology of primates.


Welcome to the PEER Group website. We are an international team of scientists from several different research institutions, but physically based in Cambridge, UK. The team is led by Dr Jacob Dunn, Associate Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Anglia Ruskin University.

We supervise a fantastic group of Postdoctoral Research Fellows, PhD students, Masters students and Undergraduate dissertation students (read more about our Team). We also collaborate with other researchers from many other countries around the world (read more about our collaborations).

PEER Group research is focused on primate evolution and ecology, with a particular emphasis on vocal communication and the evolution of language. However, we also have a strong interest in primate welfare and conservation. Primates are among the most threatened animal groups on earth, but they are essential in the conservation of tropical rainforests.

Our main research areas

PEER Group members carry out research in a range of fields related to primate evolution and ecology. Our work can be broadly divided into four main areas: bioacoustics (i.e., how animals produce, detect, and respond to sound), primate communication and the evolution of language, eco-acoustics for animal welfare and conservation, and macro-evolution and phylogenetic comparative methods.


Bioacoustics is the study of how animals produce, detect, and respond to sound. We use bioacoustic methods to ask a range of ecological and evolutionary questions, as well as in the context of animal welfare and conservation. We take a broad comparative perspective, ranging from detailed descriptions of vocal anatomy, through to recording animal sounds, carrying out playback experiments, and using phylogenetic analyses to test evolutionary hypotheses. We currently work on bioacoustic projects with howler monkeys, pied tamarins, red-handed tamarins, and several species of corvids.

The evolution of language

Our research into the evolution of language forms a core part of a large and long-running international collaboration with Prof. Tecumseh Fitch (Vienna) and Prof. Takeshi Nishimura (Kyoto). We seek to understand the evolution of human speech through comparative studies of vocal anatomy in primates and other mammals. We use a combination of in vivo observations of phonation, high speed video observations of excised larynges, anatomical investigations using high resolution CT and MRI scanning, and computer simulation modelling of vocal fold dynamics.

Eco-acoustics for animal welfare and conservation

In recent years, technological advances have revolutionised our ability to study sound, with advances in equipment, data storage and analytical methods. We use passive acoustic monitoring and machine learning, alongside more traditional bioacoustics methods to investigate the effects of human noise on primate behaviour, physiology and cognition. In collaboration with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, we currently run a research project on captive and wild pied tamarins – one of the world’s most endangered primates. We also research the impacts of building construction on captive great apes.

Macro-evolution and phylogenetic comparative methods

We have broad interests in the evolutionary modelling of functional traits – particularly those relevant to our understanding of human evolution. Alongside modelling laryngeal evolution, we also run projects on the mammalian brain using state of the art phylogenetic methods. We have recently shown that major transitions in the mammalian brain are often primarily characterised by changes in body size, and that the largest-brained mammals achieved large relative brain sizes by highly divergent paths. We also investigate the evolution of the primate hyoid, knee, sclera, long bones, and coat colour.

the monkey’s typewriter: the peer group blog
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